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The Dangers of Being a Monkey

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Macaques live in a society where there is always someone bigger and better out there. A world where there is a limited supply of food and a strict hierarchy to be followed. The lower you are on the totem pole, the less food there is available. The world is a jungle, full of biting insects, poisonous, monkey-eating snakes, wild hogs, and aggressive wild dogs. These dangers are a normal part of life for monkeys living in the jungles of Cambodia. It makes sense that these dangers exist. But, additional dangers exist for monkeys living around the temples. Despite the macaques being endangered, they are not yet protected by law in most Asian countries.
The dangers caused by humans far exceed those that occur in nature. The largest and most obvious human-caused risk to monkeys and all other wildlife is deforestation. Every year thousands of acres of trees are stripped from the forest leaving a barren landscape behind in which nothing can survive. The problem of deforestation is no surprise to anyone living in the world today. What might surprise people is that the monkeys are part of the solution. Monkeys eat a lot of seeds. They travel from place to place in search of food, dropping little poop bombs full of seeds along the way. It’s a very important job that helps to ensure the stability of the ecosystem. Another human threat to the monkeys is urban development. Closely related to deforestation, urban development causes a variety of problems for wildlife. The most obvious result of urban development is the shrinking size of the natural habitat monkey troops call home. Fortunately, monkeys are innovative. They will find a place to live, even if it’s in someone’s yard.
             Unfortunately, development means things like roads, powerlines, and toxic substances, all of which can easily kill a monkey. If you think that given a choice the monkeys will stay away from humans, you are wrong. Monkeys know that where there is a human, there is food. In hard times, like during Covid-19 when food is less plentiful, monkeys move closer to areas with trash cans to raid and people to beg snacks from. In India, monkeys have broken into offices and other buildings in search of food. We don’t have to feed monkeys for them to know that humans are food generating machines, they already know.
The closer monkeys live to humans the more at risk they are. Thousands of monkey traps are found in Cambodia’s forested areas every year. Monkey traps are an entire topic all on their own.
          What happens to monkeys caught in traps is horrifying. A wire loops around the monkey’s hand when it tries to get food out of the trap. The more the monkey fights, the tighter the wire becomes. Monkeys that survive a trap very frequently lose a hand. If the monkey ensnared by the trap is not what the poacher was hoping for, they just leave the trap where it is and move on. The poachers do not release the trapped monkey. It is left to either die of hunger or infected wounds or to escape, minus one hand. Trapping is a lucrative business for people who fuel the illegal wildlife trade. Most of these monkeys end up in Vietnam where they have already decimated their own monkey population. A very lucky monkey might become a pet but if they were caught in a trap that can injure them, the pet trade is not very likely. Monkeys are sold to China or America for scientific experiments. That means a painful life living in a small cage.
             I won’t get into what the experiments entail. Other captured Monkeys are used for ancient medicine. Although scientific advancements have proven that ‘homeopathic’ cures do not work, believers of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) still believe in the cures. Monkeys, tigers, and Rhinos are just a few of the animals killed for their supposed curative properties. In some instances, monkeys are killed for food. Monkey brains are considered a delicacy in China. In Cambodia, monkeys are not a delicacy but a necessary evil in times of extreme economic distress. It sounds horrific and brings tears to your eyes, right? But this sad fate might actually be one of the least painful deaths the poached monkeys face. When a person has no food they will eat many things we would never consider otherwise. With Covid still ravaging the planet, tourism is slow at the Angkor Temples. The ensuing job crisis increases the poverty level. People who cannot afford to buy food will eat anything they can find. Dogs, cats, and monkeys are not excluded from the menu during times of need. The Cambodian government, working with APSARA, has tightened restrictions on feeding and filming monkeys. Filming of temple monkeys is prohibited after 5:30 pm. This restriction has opened up a window of opportunity for poachers. Fewer Cameramen keeping a protective eye on the monkeys makes catching them far more easy.
In addition to the use of traps, poachers use food to lure monkeys closer so they can be quickly stuffed into a bag. Easier still is the practice of placing food inside a vehicle. Once a monkey enters a parked car, the waiting human simply shuts the door trapping them inside. The monkeys are never seen again. It’s a sad fate that even the most well-meaning videographers are powerless to stop. Yes, videographers DO try to stop animal poaching. A video of someone catching monkeys can be used to prosecute them for poaching and has led to the arrest of wildlife traffickers in the past. The most at-risk population of monkeys are abandoned pets. Raised by humans, these monkeys have not learned to fear humans. They easily fall prey to a fate far worse than being filmed in someone’s home for YouTube videos. Despite numerous attempts being made, APSARA and the Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife Ministry have refused to work with concerned videographers towards a more permanent solution. Refusing an organized cooperative effort that would embrace the well-being and conservation of wild macaques, annual relocations of large troops have become the norm. Some argue that the relocations are in the best interests of monkeys. Unfortunately, in the past, they have been ‘relocated’ into the hands of the very people they need protection from. Past relocation efforts have ended in the deaths of monkeys at the hands of ‘rescuers’ who shoot the largest males with tranquilizer darts causing them to fall from the trees. Relocations are not performed for the safety or well-being of the monkeys.
           The monkeys are taken to protect the temples or to protect visitors to the temples. Less intrusive interventions have not been exhausted because they are not interested in putting in the efforts needed to try them. Signs instructing visitors on how to safely interact with the monkeys would prevent accidents from occurring. It’s a simple solution that has worked in other countries. APSARA refuses to even consider posting signs to educate the public or to slow down the heavy traffic around the temples where several monkeys die each year. Preventive measures are obviously needed. Rope bridges across roads where monkeys frequently travel have been very successful in other countries. It’s an inexpensive solution that does not affect the aesthetic beauty of the area. Authorities don’t listen but animal lovers are not giving up. With enough voices, perhaps someday we can change their minds and protect this beautiful species. By Lorry Kaller

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